Pentax Q review

8 Nov 2011

A charming new take on the mirrorless, interchangeable-lens camera, but not really for the serious photographer

Price when reviewed: 
600inc VAT
3

The template for a mirrorless camera is tried and tested: a large body, an APS-C sensor, and a few lenses and accessories to help smaller, cheaper kit bridge the gap between compacts and DSLRs.

The Pentax Q takes a different approach – it’s tiny compared to the likes of Sony’s NEX-C3, at only 98mm wide and 31mm deep, and its sensor has also been subjected to a shrink-ray. Where the APS-C sensors found in other mirrorless cameras measure about 24mm wide and 17mm tall, the Q’s is around 6 x 4mm.

It still contains 12 million rather tightly spaced pixel sites, though. That means image quality, while good, can’t compete with other mirrorless cameras – think of the Q as being more a very flexible compact than a true alternative to a DSLR. Images look fine viewed in their entirety, but zooming in or cropping reveals a fair amount of softness and noise.

Pentax Q - front shot

Instead of a motorised, permanent lens there’s a DSLR-style lens mount and a range of lenses ranging from the 8.5mm (47mm equivalent) f1.9 prime that came with our review unit, to a more standard 5-15mm (27.5-83mm equivalent) zoom. There’s also a 3.2mm (17.5mm) fisheye lens with a 170-degree field of view. It’s a decent amount of choice for a keen consumer, but not a patch on the number of choices you’d have if you spent the same amount on a DSLR.

Take the lens off and the Q resembles any other smart compact camera. There’s a small rounded edge on the right-hand side acting as a grip, while the back is occupied primarily by a large 3in LCD. The buttons look too small to be of any practical use, but in reality they’re just about okay, if a touch close together.

The top of the camera is a pleasant surprise. You get a proper mode dial, complete with manual, aperture and shutter priority, and program modes, making this a good choice for those frustrated with the mode selection on offer from most compacts. There’s also a jog wheel to help you scroll quickly through options or shutter speeds.

A supplementary dial on the front can be assigned various functions; by default it shuffles through a series of image treatments, such as the popular lomography-style effect. Image stability is provided through the sensor, and works well. We managed to get steady exposures down to one-fifth of a second.

Pentax Q - top down

The well-concealed flash is a pop-up job. It springs up quite a long way from the camera body on a complex hinged mechanism, although it will still fire via a custom menu setting if it’s not popped up. Despite the fine-tuned mechanics, it feels pretty secure, but we wouldn’t like it to accidentally spring up in a crowded bag. Unusually for a compact, there’s also a hotshoe, which is compatible with all Pentax’s existing flash units.

The only dedicated Q series accessory is a large optical viewfinder, and given the excellent 100% coverage LCD, we’d advise you keep your credit card in your pocket, not least because the viewfinder costs well over £200.

And that’s the problem with the Q. It’s a desirable camera: it looks good, is just about pocketable and takes good pictures for a device with such a small sensor.

However, by the time you’ve saved up enough for a Q, you’ll have enough cash for something such as the Canon EOS 600D or the Nikon D5100, both of which take far superior pictures, besides being compatible with a vast number of consumer and professional lenses. For fashionistas this may be worth a look, but photographers should look elsewhere, despite the Q’s charms.

Details

Price ex VAT £500
Price inc VAT £600
Overall rating 3
Performance 4
Features & Design 4
Value for Money 2

Basic specifications

Camera megapixel rating 12.4mp
Camera screen size 3.0in
Camera optical zoom range N/A
Camera maximum resolution 4000 x 3000

Weight and dimensions

Weight N/A
Dimensions 98 x 57 x 31mm (WDH)

Battery

Battery type included Lithium-ion
Battery life (CIPA standard) 230 shots
Charger included? yes

Other specifications

Built-in flash? yes
Aperture range f1.9 - f8
Minimum (fastest) shutter speed 1/2,000
Maximum (slowest) shutter speed 30s
Bulb exposure mode? yes
RAW recording mode? yes
Exposure compensation range +/- 3EV
ISO range 125 - 6400
Selectable white balance settings? yes
Manual/user preset white balane? yes
Progam auto mode? yes
Shutter priority mode? yes
Aperture priority mode? yes
Fully auto mode? yes
Exposure bracketing? yes
White-balance bracketing? no
Memory-card type SDXC
Viewfinder coverage N/A
LCD resolution 460k
Secondary LCD display? no
Video/TV output? yes
Body construction Plastic
Tripod mounting thread? yes

Manual, software and accessories

Full printed manual? yes
Software supplied SilkyPix Developer Studio 3.0